GENEVA, Switzerland — Israel’s plan to annex nearly a third of the West Bank is a vision of “21st-century apartheid,” a large group of independent United Nations experts warned Tuesday.
The experts argued that annexation would be a “serious violation” of the United Nations charter and the Geneva Conventions, and would only intensify human rights violations in the West Bank.
Israeli officials rejected the warning, with a diplomatic source telling The Times of Israel it was simply more proof of “the one-sided point of view and the anti-Israeli tendency that has been a part of the United Nations Human Rights Council since its creation.”
The more than 40 independent special rapporteurs along with a range of UN working groups on various rights issues who signed the statement do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aims to begin a process of annexing West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley from July 1, as part of a US peace initiative which envisions a Palestinian state in the rest of the West Bank.
The experts said the 53-year Israeli military rule over the West Bank had been the source of “profound human rights violations” against the Palestinians, chiefly the denial of the right of self-determination among a long list of other alleged violations.
“These human rights violations would only intensify after annexation,” the experts said.
“What would be left of the West Bank would be a Palestinian Bantustan, islands of disconnected land completely surrounded by Israel and with no territorial connection to the outside world,” they said, referring to the territories set out for blacks by South Africa’s apartheid regime.
“Israel has recently promised that it will maintain permanent security control between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
“Thus, the morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st-century apartheid.”
The experts said that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981 saw condemnation but no meaningful response from the international community.
“This time must be different,” they said. “The lessons from the past are clear: Criticism without consequences will neither forestall annexation nor end the occupation.”
The experts voiced “great regret” about Washington’s role in “supporting and encouraging Israel’s unlawful plans,” saying the United States should be “ardently opposing” an imminent breach of international law “rather than actively abetting its violation.”
Responding, the Israeli diplomatic source said the statement “once again ridicules the Human Rights Council by promoting the Palestinian agenda. It does nothing to help find a solution to the conflict or to create constructive dialogue between the parties.”
He further claimed that many of those behind the warning were speaking entirely out of their area of expertise.
“One of the signatories, for instance, is special rapporteur for the rights of people with leprosy,” he said. Others “are in charge of sexual abuse of children or discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those people have nothing to do with the issue this statement deals with, which shows that they have no real concern for human rights and that it’s merely a political statement.”